The Business of Intellectual Property Laws

Decoding Canadian intellectual property laws and rights – copyrights, trademarks, patents, industrial designs and, shhhhh, trade secrets. It’s been reported that certain celebrities have had their body parts insured; think of Jamie Lee Curtis’s legs, valued at $2 million, or Rhianna, whose lower appendages, at half that price, are still big business.

Canadian Intellectual Property Laws and Rights for Businesses | BC Business
Depend on creativity in your business? Then intellectual property might be your most valuable asset.

Decoding Canadian intellectual property laws and rights – copyrights, trademarks, patents, industrial designs and, shhhhh, trade secrets.

It’s been reported that certain celebrities have had their body parts insured; think of Jamie Lee Curtis’s legs, valued at $2 million, or Rhianna, whose lower appendages, at half that price, are still big business.

But for Canadian companies that rely on earning revenue from a slightly less sexy organ – the brain – protecting intellectual property can be as confusing as the timeline in a Tarantino film.
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Intellectual property rights can be very simply defined as the legal rights that are the outcome of intellectual activity – brain not brawn – in industrial, scientific, literary and artistic endeavours. Those intellectual property rights come cloaked in the form of copyrights, trademarks, patents, industrial designs and, shhhhh, trade secrets.

Intellectual property laws formalize what’s yours, when it comes to ideas and creations and designs. It gives you the rights associated with owning something, such as the right to license or sell it, and proves you are the owner. Depending on what type of business you are in, intellectual property might be your most valuable asset.

Just the facts, ma’am

What are the differences between Canadian intellectual property laws in protecting intellectual property rights?

Patents

  • – Government grant giving inventors exclusive rights
  • – Last for 20 years
  • – Describe a new aspect of technology
  • – Great minds think alike, so the first to file a patent owns it
  • – Mandatory to file a patent to gain its protection
  • – A patent is valid only in the country where you received it

Trademarks

  • – Words and/or designs that identify and distinguish your products from others
  • – Trademark registration proves prima facie ownership (meaning the other fellow has to prove you wrong)
  • – Unregistered trademarks might be recognized through common law, depending on circumstances
  • – It cannot be your name (or anyone’s proper name) unless that name is associated with a product or service
  • – Cannot be a descriptive word
  • – Last for 15 years and can be renewed indefinitely

Copyrights

  • – Protect the original creator of a work
  • – Exist at the moment of creation
  • – Protect work from being copied, or provide a license to copy
  • – Registration is optional but can provide a certificate of ownership
  • – The one-time registration fee covers the copyright owner until 50 years after his or her death
  • – The © is not necessary in Canada, but won’t hurt, either

Protecting intellectual property rights, for most of us, falls into one of these categories:

Trademarks

Registering a valid trademark means you have the exclusive right to a word or words, a symbol or a design, or a combination of all three. It’s a “mark” that sets your product or service apart from the rest. While registration isn’t necessary, it may be advisable, unless you think you might enjoy a protracted legal battle with someone infringing on your trademark.

Patents

In Canada, a patent applies for 20 years following the filing of your application. A patent gives you the right to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention, whether that invention is a product or a process. The application includes an abstract or brief summary of the contents of the specification, along with the specification itself, which is a description of the invention, its usefulness and the boundaries of the patent protection. Just like the wedding mantra, a patent applies to something old (if it’s a new or useful improvement of an existing invention) and something new.  

Copyrights

This is exactly what it says: the right to copy the work lies with the copyright owner, who may license or sell that right to another. In Canada, the creator of a work owns copyright the moment the work is created, and that right lasts for 50 years after his or her death, whether the creation is a book or lyrics or a painting or film or photo or computer program or even this article you are reading. Registration isn’t necessary but if you want one of the best ways to prove you are the original creator of a work, registration is the answer (not, as some believe, mailing a copy of your work to yourself. That really is fiction).

Industrial designs

If you are manufacturing an object, industrial design refers to the visual features of the shape, pattern or ornamentation of the thingamajig you are making. Registering this industrial design gives owners exclusive rights for ten years, at a fee.

Who owns what when you’re an employee

If you’re at work, and are struck by a eureka moment, the likelihood is that idea will belong to your employer, if part of your job is to create things, invent things, or come up with a solution for a work-related problem. If you are at home, lying in bed exhausted after a particularly grueling day when your eureka moment strikes (and let’s say you are not using any employer-owned stimuli), it might be your very own discovery to capitalize upon. Of course, if you signed an agreement giving your boss the right to your work-related inventions, you are probably out of luck, suggesting you give a bit of thought to just how brilliant you are before you sign on the dotted line.


Intellectual property and trade secrets: when you can talk, and when you can’t

Let’s be fair; employees can’t learn all the employer’s secrets, then jump ship and run to the competition or hang out their own shingle, using an ex-employer’s intellectual property. This is why non-disclosure agreements were created. Employers need to adopt a need-to-know basis for their intellectual property, and then protect that information. Employers need to be very vigilant about their trade secrets, which can be formulas, codes, data or other information that gives them a competitive advantage. Because here’s the thing: if you don’t take the appropriate steps to maintain the secrecy of your, well, secrets, you lose the right to their legal protection. It’s like sharing your grandmother’s tiramisu recipe with the neighbourhood blabbermouth: the secret is out.

As you might expect, legal issues pop up all the time, including patent infringement, when someone copies your protected invention without your permission; copyright infringement, when someone copies your work; and industrial design infringement, when someone reproduces your design without authority. If you are the owner of intellectual property and someone infringes your rights, you can sue, either to get them to stop stealing from you, or to start paying you for doing so.

Industry Canada’s Canadian Intellectual Property Office administers most of this country’s intellectual property laws and regulations, so if you are looking for a good place to start your research, or you are ready to register your brilliant creation, check out the IP toolkit at www.cipo.ic.gc.ca. Otherwise, there are many professionals who can give you advice including patent and trademark agents and lawyers.